Patents Directed to a Media Player that Provides Information with Media Content Fail under Section 101
Disclosure: Holland & Knight LLP, including the author of this blog post, represents Polar Electro in the litigation described below.
Interactive Wearables (IW) sued Polar Electro Oy and Polar Electro Inc., asserting two patents that claim the capacity to "provide information relating to content in conjunction with media content." Polar Electro moved to dismiss IW's complaint, arguing that both patents were directed to ineligible subject matter under Section 101.
The court thoroughly walked through Alice steps 1 and 2, along with the appropriateness of ruling on the pleadings and ruling on all asserted claims collectively. Upon this analysis, the court concluded that both of IW's asserted patents were invalid as being addressed to patent-ineligible subject matter, and the court granted Polar Electro's motion to dismiss with prejudice.
Ruling on All Asserted Claims Collectively
It is not necessary, the court noted, to address every claim of a challenged patent individually where "multiple claims are substantially similar and linked to the same abstract idea." With IW's two asserted patents, other than a "wirelessly coupled" limitation, the claims contain insignificant limitations to distinguish them from the court's representative claim. Accordingly, the court found that it was free to dispose of the non-representative claims in a less detailed fashion because the asserted claims all recite the same basic processes with only slight variations.
Alice Step One
Polar argued that the asserted claims were directed to "the abstract idea of providing a user with information that relates to media content." IW countered that the claims were, instead, directed to "a physical device having a specific combination of non-generic hardware components with specific features . . . [that] receives content together with information about the content, and wirelessly pairs with a remote control."
The court, reading the claims in light of the specification, determined that the asserted patents are directed to providing "broadcasts along with information regarding the content of the respective broadcast." There is not alternative focus of the claims and, to the extent the patents describe specific components, it is merely to point out without specifics "how they achieve this result, not to indicate that the components or their arrangement are a separate improvement in and of themselves . . . In short, the specification here never suggests that the content player itself is improved from a technical perspective."
Looking specifically at the representative claim, the court determined that the claim language itself reinforced the court's conclusion: "the claims are not focused on a specific asserted improvement in computer capabilities, but rather are directed to an abstract idea for which computers are invoked merely as a tool, i.e., that of providing information in conjunction with media content." The court compared the claimed abstract idea to consulting a TV Guide.
IW argued that the claimed devices recite "concrete, tangible" components, but this failed to alter the court's conclusion. The fact that the claims were associated with a physical machine that is tangible is not dispositive, and resolving the Section 101 inquiry on such an argument would make the determination of patent eligibility depend "simply on the draftsman's art," something which the U.S. Supreme Court has warned against.
The court then addressed the suitability of determining eligibility under Section 101 at the pleadings stage. While the ultimate determination of eligibility is a question of law, there can be subsidiary fact questions that must be resolved en route to the legal determination. Nevertheless, patent eligibility can be determined at the pleadings stage when there are no factual allegations that prevent resolving the eligibility question.
Here, the court analyzed IW's allegations and determined that the "generalized allegations of the complaint reinforce the notion that plaintiff's claims exist in the realm of the abstract idea." In fact, the plaintiff's "kind of generalized allegation – without any suggestion as to how the so-called patented technology improves such a system – helps establish defendants' point: through the patent and this suit, plaintiff attempts to monopolize an abstract idea." The court concluded that the claim limitations merely confine the abstract idea to a particular environment – in this case, wearable content players with remote control devices.
Alice Step Two
Plaintiff again argued that its complaint "alleges specific facts supporting the inventiveness of the claims," and this bars dismissal at the pleading stage. These allegations included allegations regarding the patents being directed to an "improved content player which is wearable and requires a display and playing device equipment which is configured to be wirelessly coupled with a remote control having a second display that can control the operation of the wearable content player."
The court disagreed. "The claims fail to recite any elements that individually or as an ordered combination transform the abstract idea of providing information in conjunction with media content into a patent-eligible application of that idea." Here, plaintiff's allegations of inventiveness were "mere conclusory statements which may be properly disregarded."
Looking at the components in the asserted claims, each component "merely recites the performance of well-understood, routine, conventional activities known to the industry." In fact, the patents themselves define the components in terms of "generic preexisting technology." The court reiterated that the components "are at best given cursory, functional descriptions" and "such vague, functional descriptions – or indeed, lack of descriptions – of content player components are insufficient to transform the abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention."
Finally, while the plaintiff alleged that no system or apparatus was available that could "provide radio broadcasts or television broadcasts along with information regarding the content of the respective broadcast," this is insufficient to save the patents at the pleadings stage where the "patent is wholly devoid of details which describe how this is accomplished." Additional allegations in the complaint "fail to alter this conclusion, as they are merely conclusory or otherwise insufficient."
The court concluded that the claim limitations failed to present an inventive concept to transform the nature of the claims into a patent-eligible application. Further, the court determined that any amendment to the complaint would be futile because the components are "entirely generic," and the "failure of the specification in this regard, which applies to all of the components identified in the claims of the asserted patents, cannot be remedied through new allegations in an amended complaint." Accordingly, the court granted Polar Electro's motion to dismiss with prejudice.
The case is Interactive Wearables, LLC, v. Polar Electro Oy, Polar Electro Inc. No. 19-CV-3084 (GRB), 2020 WL 6792766 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 19, 2020).
The Representative Claim
A content player comprising:
a receiver configured to receive content and together with the content information associated with the content,
a processor coupled to the receiver and configured to process the content and the information associated with the content,
memory coupled to the processor,
a first display coupled to the processor, and
playing device equipment coupled to the processor and configured to provide the content to a user of the content player, the playing device equipment comprising an audio player; wherein the content player is a wearable content player configured to be controlled by a wireless remote control device comprising a second display, the wireless remote control device being configured to receive commands directing operations of the wearable content player, and wherein the wireless remote control device is configured to provide to the user at least a portion of the information associated with the content.
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